Craig Gordon has found it tough to be on the outside looking in as the Premiership sides returned to action but, now that they are on the verge of competitive club games, the Hearts keeper is determined to turn in the kind of performances needed to avoid that angst at international level.
First capped 16 years ago, in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago, he has since amassed a tally of 54 caps and made it into the hall of fame. But he has never made it to a major tournament.
The country hasn’t qualified since 1998 but with the possibility looming large, with Nations League play-offs, against Israel and then either Norway or Serbia, the final obstacles between Clarke’s side and return to the big stage, the Gorgie goalkeeper does not want to miss out.
“Absolutely not,” said Gordon. “They are huge games and it would be magnificent to be involved and experience the build up. Games of that importance don’t come around very often for Scotland. I have only been involved in a few games of that magnitude in my career and unfortunately we have come out on the wrong side of them.
“As I say, you don’t get many of those opportunities so it would be fantastic to be involved but I’m sure you could ask any one of the goalkeepers, any one of the players, and everyone would love to go out there and be part of it, whether that is playing in the team or simply being in that squad, if that is the one that finally manages to qualify for a tournament.
“I would love to be involved but we will have to see. It is the manager’s decision. All I can do is make sure that my performances are at a high, consistent level.
“I would love to still be involved [with Scotland] but it is the manager’s call.”
Inactivity denied him the chance to book his place in the most recent head-to-head with Israel and although Hearts have been racking up pre-season games, with Gordon looking comfortable in each outing, including Saturday’s 2-0 triumph over Partick Thistle, the start of the League Cup and Championship campaigns could come just too late to convince Clarke to recall the man who has plenty of experience and an undiluted enthusiasm to play for his country.
The play-off semi against Israel is just 10 days away, but missing out would just just fuel his hunger.
Now aged 37, the lengthy spell on the sidelines with knee injuries earlier in his career, which accounts for the four-year lull in international appearances, has, he says, left him with plenty in the tank.
“I feel that my body is in good shape and I will continue as long as I can. So long as I am putting in performances that are good enough to keep me getting selected here then I give myself that chance with Scotland. That’s all I can do.”
In a Hearts side that looks like the most probable destination is an immediate return to the top flight, there is an impatience to get going.
Saturday’s 2-0 friendly win over Partick Thistle was another decent showing, with plenty of attacking options and plenty of pace and power. Goals from Jamie Walker and Craig Halkett secured the win and the only minor concern was the dip in tempo and intensity as the game went on.
With fitness levels high, Gordon attributes that to the emptiness of the Tynecastle stands.
“It is certainly different,” said the man who made his professional breakthrough at the Gorgie club and knows how atmospheric the ground can be and the noise that can be generated. “There are not many better places to play in Scotland when this place is full. It’s incredible. Ask any player who has played here, either for or against Hearts, and they will tell you it is one of the best atmospheres you can get. The stands are so close to the pitch and it is a miss not to have them full.
“I heard we had over 7500 fans watching the game on Hearts tv and, hopefully, at some point, we manage to get at least some of them back in.
“The backing of the fans definitely helps players give that little bit extra. You could see that players were getting tired in the last 10-15 minutes but if this place is full then you tend to find that extra little bit of energy. Without the fans that is something we are going to have to find ourselves. We will have to spur each other on.
“But, we want to put a marker down at the beginning of the season. We mean business and we want to go out there and perform and get victories.”
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